NEW YORK — Protesters calling for pay of $15 an hour and a union were at McDonald’s restaurants in Charleston and around the country and overseas Thursday as part of an ongoing push targeting the world’s biggest hamburger chain.
Dozens of demonstrators in North Charleston packed the sidewalk outside a McDonald’s and spilled onto the shoulder of Rivers Avenue for about an hour midday. Another protest was planned later for Savannah Highway.
“We work. We sweat. Put 15 on our check,” they chanted, in a refrain that has been repeated across the country.
The $15-an-hour target has shaped the national conversation about the minimum wage and low pay. Two states — California and New York — have approved legislation in recent weeks to raise their minimum wages to that level, and the debate has spilled into the presidential race.
The “Fight for $15” campaign says low-wage workers including airport workers, adjunct professors and home care workers plan to turn out to show their solidarity with fast-food workers. They say they’re targeting McDonald’s because of its ability to influence pay practices throughout the economy.
“This is America, and Americans take care of Americans. We don’t watch as our people suffer,” said Pastor Thomas Dixon, a Charleston community activist. “Those who they say flip burgers, they’re just as important as our surgeons. Other than that, this would not be a multi-billion dollar industy.”
The push is being backed by the Service Employees International Union and began in late 2012, with striking fast-food workers in New York City. Since then, the growing demonstrations have helped make low pay a major political issue. The success has prompted organizers to expand their push to energize new swaths of low-wage workers to fight for higher pay and unionization.
Organizers said strikes and protests were planned for cities including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. In Paris, about 100 people waving red union flags protested outside a McDonald’s restaurant at Disneyland.
The campaign is taking place as McDonald’s Corp. tries to reinvigorate its business and win back customers. This week, executives met with franchisees in Florida for a bi-annual convention and discussed plans for a rebound.
Lisa McComb, a McDonald’s representative, says the company gives workers access to programs that help them earn high school and college degrees. She said McDonald’s raised pay last year to $1 above the local minimum wage for workers at company-owned stores in the U.S., which account for about 10 percent of its more than 14,000 locations.
“We proudly invest in the future of those who work in McDonald’s restaurants,” McComb wrote.
McDonald’s workers called those measures a publicity stunt that failed to address the difficulties they face.
Sepia Rasheen Coleman, a home care worker in Memphis, Tennessee, said she became involved in the Fight for $15 campaign after an organizer reached out to her on Facebook. She said she was initially dismissive of the effort, but was later awed by the sense of support she felt at her first demonstration.
Since then, Coleman said she has been to Washington, D.C., for training on organizing protests.
“This is a mission, this is something I need to do,” she said.
Thad Moore of The Post and Courier contributed to this report.